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Published on Friday, April 14, 2000 in the St Louis Post-Dispatch
Toward A Brave New World Of Natural Capitalism
by Pat Waterston
 
When L. Hunter Lovins kicks off St. Louis-area Earth Day events at the Missouri Botanical Garden on Friday, she will take the public on a journey to the kind of 21st-century environment we like to dream about: Business does its job in a sustainable way. The bottom line is healthy. More jobs are created. The environment steadily improves. Life on Earth gains because of human reinvestment in "natural capital" -- the natural resources and ecosystem services that make possible all economic activity and, indeed, all life.

This is not pie-in-the-sky daydreaming. Authors Hunter Lovins, Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins have collected more than 800 examples of successful national and international businesses in their new book, "Natural Capitalism", that are astounding.

Honda, Kodak, Steelcase, IBM, Building Corp, Prairie Crossing, Herman Miller, DuPont, Xerox, Shimizu, etc. are responding to changing worldwide business conditions and jumping ahead of competitors to become "sustainable." They're doing it by radically increasing resource productivity; redesigning industry on biological models with closed loops and zero waste; shifting from the sale of goods (for example, light bulbs) to the provision of services (illumination), and reinvesting in the natural capital that is the basis of future prosperity.

A new pattern of scarcity is driving the change. The conditions of the first Industrial Revolution -- abundant resources and a scarcity of people -- are reversed, as natural resources and vital life-support services are diminishing, but we have many people.

MOST important, these conditions are creating vast new opportunities for business and their employees, and many companies know nothing about it.

As the authors explain:

"Engineers have already designed hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered cars to be plug-in electric generators that may become the power plants of the future. Buildings already exist that make oxygen, solar power and drinking water and can help pay the mortgage while their tenants work inside them. Deprintable and reprintable papers and inks, together with other innovative ways to use fiber, could enable the world's supply of lumber and pulp to be grown in an area about the size of Iowa. Weeds can yield potent pharmaceuticals. Cellulose-based plastics have been shown to be strong, reusable and compostable. Luxurious carpets can be made from landfilled scrap. Roofs and windows, even roads, can do double duty as solar-electric collectors. Cities are being designed so that men and women no longer spend their days driving to obtain the goods and services of daily life."

International business leader William Clay Ford Jr. is wasting no time. The Ford Motor Co. chairman has begun a makeover of company culture, has invested heavily in fuel cell technology to create zero-emission cars and has pulled his company out of the Global Climate Coalition (an industrial group opposing proposed climate change regulations). In a recent article he stated: "I am very excited by the prospect of fuel cells . . . because it really does promise a tremendous benefit to the environment. . . You have to be consistent. We just pulled out of the Global Climate Coalition because here we were driving all this change in terms of our business and yet we were part of this group that wasn't consistent with that . . . so many times, doing the right thing is the right thing for the bottom line . . . we have saved hundreds of millions of dollars."

Missouri has a wealth of rivers and floodplains, forests and farmland, long overdue for reinvestment. St. Louis, Kansas City and other cities have manufacturing capability and skilled labor forces. We have a wide range of industrial products and design and engineering firms.

Remanufacturing, the business of reusing key resources to create recyclable products, has become the second largest sector of the new economy. Possibilities exist for fuel cell production, and the use of wind and solar power as alternative energy sources would greatly contribute to the struggle for clean air and the battle against global warming.

"We're all in this together," the theme of St. Louis Earth Day, should spur us on to take the necessary steps to make it happen here. A true partnership of business, government and community organizations to explore these opportunities can jump-start our commitment to environmental excellence in St. Louis.

Pat Waterston is interim executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. The Coalition, the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association, the Missouri Botanical Garden and East-West Gateway Coordinating Council are co-sponsoring an "Earth Day Summit of Business Opportunities for the 21st Century," with Hunter Lovins as keynote speaker on the morning of April 14. That event requires pre-registration. A public lecture will be held 7 p.m. at the Garden's Schoenberg Auditorium. Cost for the lecture is $5. For the lecture and the reception following, the cost is $25. Phone 314-727-0600 for either event.

2000 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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